By now you’ve heard that Jeb Bush declared that many undocumented immigrants come to this country as an “act of love,” casting their efforts as a great sacrifice they are making in order to “provide for their families.” While he acknowledged that this is against the law, he sees this as “a different kind of crime.”
This has triggered quite the blowback. According to Politico, the episode has “lit up social media,” reminding us that should Bush run for president, he would “have to grapple with a party that has become dramatically more conservative” since another Bush did the same. Charles Krauthammer said Jeb Bush should no longer feel “optimism” about his chances. And Ted Cruz, who’s gearing up a presidential run, took a shot at Bush, arguing: “We’re a nation of immigrants, we need to celebrate that, but at the same time, rule of law matters.”
This is a useful reminder, I think, of the folly of imagining it will somehow be easier for Republicans to wait until the 2014 elections pass and to try to pass immigration reform next year.
I’m actually sympathetic to the argument that it’s hard for Republicans to embrace some form of legalization for the 11 million. The GOP’s party-wide position a mere two years ago, as expressed by the GOP presidential nominee, was self-deportation. Many Republicans sincerely believe that rewarding lawbreakers, whatever their motives for entering illegally, violates fundamental principles of fairness. When John Boehner released his immigration principles, declaring support for legalization, it was a genuine break with the past, which is why Dems were cheered by them.
But Boehner’s mere statement of principles was greeted with a backlash — Cruz derided them as “amnesty” — and on top of that, this Jeb Bush episode further reminds us that nuanced discussions about the plight of the 11 million could prove politically impossible in the souped up environment of a GOP presidential primary.
Some good news: As best as I can determine, House GOP leaders do recognize that it isn’t going to be any easier to pass reform next year, and are aware of the potential for extreme demagoguery in a presidential primary setting to derail Congressional debate.
“It’s generally understood that it’s not necessarily easy next year either,” one senior House GOP leadership aide tells me. “It creates its own set of challenges. There’s the context of the presidential primary. It depends on how quickly it picks up.”
It’s plainly obvious John Boehner and Paul Ryan want to get to Yes on reform. It’s also plainly obvious Boehner is just not yet willing to risk angering the right, and upsetting a political environment Republicans believe favor them, in order to do that this year.
Indeed, the Jeb Bush episode is a reminder of how hard getting to legalization remains for Republicans this year. But it’s also a reminder of how hard getting there will be next year, too. And remember: It could be even more difficult next year, because the Senate bill will expire, and the Senate would have to pass another one, even as GOPers like Marco Rubio are also running for president. By the way: the idea that it will be easier for a GOP-controlled Senate and House to pass reform may sound pleasing to some, but nothing they can pass will do anything significant to repair relations with Latinos.
If the aide quoted above is right, House GOP leaders do recognize the possibility that if they don’t act in the next few months, it could very well mean they head into another presidential election without having begun to repair the GOP’s Latino problem. And it just may have to be that way: If the Jeb Bush episode is any indication, the GOP just may not be there yet.